Meet the musicians – Mhairi Lawson

We catch up with Soprano Mhairi Lawson ahead of our Messiah performances in December 2013.

Tell us a bit about your early life. How did you come to be a singer? Did you play any instruments? Were you encouraged by your parents to pursue music as a career?   I don’t remember ever not singing something or other.  Sang around the house, in church and sundayschool, in school.  My parents are both active in choirs and amateur opera societies, it was normal for the house to be ringing with some kind of noise.  I learned the piano, played for local ballet lessons and also occasionally church organ. A career in performing music came as a bit of a surprise as we didn’t know any professional musicians and there were none in the family. My parents were and still are extremely supportive.  My Dad is still holding out for the yacht I’m supposed to buy him….

In recent years, you have really started to feature as one of the top specialist performers of baroque repertoire. Did you find yourself instinctively attracted to this repertoire? When did that happen?   I have been extremely privileged to have been given good opportunities to work within the area of historical performance practice – it seemed to choose me, and I wonder if my childhood exposure to a lot of national and traditional music of Scotland, particularly dance tunes, contributes also to my love of 17th and 18th century repertoire.

You’ll be performing Messiah with us in December. I’m guessing that you’ve sung the work many times (!). How do you manage to bring fresh insight to it with every performance?    Yes, I’ve sung this work many times – I never get bored with it, I always work it with my voice teacher to find a higher level of delivery – this is a lifetime’ s work.

What do you enjoy most about singing with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort?   Being involved in all aspects of the work in progress ie. as chorister and soloist is immensely rewarding – hard work, mind you, physically and mentally.

When you’re not singing or travelling between engagements, how do you spend your time?    I do the following….  build Lego star wars models with my 5 yr old boy, nag my husband,  build lego batman models, plant vegetables,  catch up on “worthy” reading to keep ahead of my historical performance students at the Guildhall School in London,  build Lego chima models,  go to the hairdresser, make damson gin and goosebarry and blackcurrant jam,  watch DVD box sets of ‘boardwalk empire’ and ‘homeland’, drink gin, go to the opera as much as possible.

Do you have any advice for young singers considering pursuing their art as a professional career?   Hmm, difficult.  I was told by a well meaning teacher that I’d never have a career and that I should probably give up. I suppose that my advice would be – ignore people wanting to give you advice.  At least, choose your advisors carefully!

Mhairi will appear with the Dunedin Consort at the following performances:   Fri 20th of December 2013 @ 7.30pm The Queen’s Hall – Edinburgh 01316682019 Handel’s Messiah Sat 21st of December 2013 @8pm Kelvingrove Museum (Glasgow) 01413538000 Sold Out (£10 Standing Gallery tickets available) Handel’s Messiah Sun 11th of May 2014 @ 3pm The Queen’s Hall – Edinburgh 01316682019 Madrigals of Love and War

John Passion – Gramophone Award Nominee

Our recording of Bach’s John Passion within a liturgical reconstruction has been nominated for a prestigious Gramophone within the Baroque Vocal category.

We are delighted by this nomination and want to once again thank all our supporters, musicians and customers for their support. We could not have done it without you.

Meet the musicians – Jonathan Manson

We speak with Jonathan Manson ahead of his concerto appearances with Dunedin on August 2nd (The Brunton/Musselburgh) and September 17th and 22nd (Perth Concert Hall/Lammermuir Festival)

How did you end up playing the cello? I started on the violin when I was six but found it very frustrating as my sister already played the instrument much better than I could.  A year later, when I first tried the cello at our village primary school in Aberdeenshire, I was completely smitten – mainly because playing on the bottom string sounded to me just like a Land Rover starting up!

As a cello (and viola da gamba) player your role keeps constantly shifting. One day you are supporting the bass line, others you are part of the harmony and others you need to play the most difficult solo pieces. Is there a particular role you enjoy better? I feel very lucky to have such a variety of roles, often on different instruments, which all help me to get different perspectives on the music.  The difficulties involved in playing a concerto are obvious, but the craft of playing a bass line – which involves being responsive and flexible but also guiding the music with conviction – has particular challenges which I relish.  Playing middle parts, which I usually do on the tenor viol, is also great fun as one usually gets the juiciest harmonies.

The cello concertos you will be performing in August (Vivaldi) and September (CPE Bach) are very different. What challenges do each one bring? The Vivaldi C minor concerto is a wonderfully atmospheric piece, but it’s concentrated into a shorter and denser format so there is less time to develop the musical ideas: one has to grasp each character quickly before it changes again.  The CPE Bach concerto, on the other hand, is conceived on a bigger scale and uses a much greater range of the instrument.  The fastest movement is the last, so the challenge is to pace yourself so that you have enough energy left for the tiring passagework that comes just before the end.

What’s your idea of perfection? As I’m writing this in the middle of a heatwave, my idea of perfection right now would be standing on top of a mountain in Sutherland with a fresh sea breeze blowing in my face…

What living person do you admire the most? David Attenborough, who has done more than anyone in the last 50 years to raise awareness of the importance and extraordinary variety of the natural world.

What is special about working with the Dunedin Consort and John Butt? One of the things I appreciate the most is the working atmosphere in the group: the focus is always on the music and how we can best serve it, rather than on personalities and politics.  I’m sure we are all infected by John Butt’s generous, inventive and open-minded spirit, which helps us all to feel involved in the delight of ‘rediscovering’ the music.  I find it fascinating that pieces I’ve played hundreds of times before can seem so fresh and vivid when we’ve worked on them with John.  And his razor-sharp wit keeps us all amused, which is an added bonus!

Jonathan Manson performs:

Vivaldi’s concerto RV 401 2nd of August @ 7.30pm The Brunton in Musselburgh  EVENT INFORMATION CPE Bach in A minor 22nd of September @ 7.30pm St Mary’s Church – Haddington Lammermuir Festival SOLD OUT CPE Bach in A minor 17th of September @ 7.30pm Perth Concert Hall – Perth EVENT INFORMATION                 You can find out more about Jonathan Manson from our artists’ page.

John Passion – Recording of the Month March 2013 – BBC Music Magazine, Gramophone and MusicWeb International

Our new recording of Bach’s John Passion has stormed to the top of the UK Specialist Classical Chart after its first week of release.  It is also at Number 10 in the UK Classical Artist Chart.

This is another great result with the album selected as ‘Recording of the Month’ by not one, but three different publications!

Recording of the Month: ‘a dramatic, profoundly considered reading.’ ***** BBC Music Magazine

Recording of the Month: ‘…[a] perfectly paced ensemble Passion.’ Gramophone

Recording of the Month: ‘an exceptionally fine small-scale performance’ MusicWeb International

Further criticial acclaim:

‘Wonderfully pure, buoyant and transparent.’ Financial Times

‘The liturgical experience offers benefits to heart and mind.’ The Times

‘A breakthrough on Bach’s John Passion.’ The Herald

‘Historic and supremely important new recording’ The Observer

‘This Johannes Passion performance is without doubt the most involving and dramatic I have encountered.’ McAlister Matheson Music

‘The impact is huge. The architecture, emotion and implication of Bach’s music all change.’ The Big Issue

John Butt awarded the Royal College of Organists Medal

John Butt has been awarded the Royal College of Organists highest honour. He was amongst the three Medal recipients honoured at the College’s Conferment of Diplomas ceremony at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 11th March were. The three recipients were:

  • Prof. John Butt OBE, for organ playing, organ- and choral-related scholarship, and choral conducting
  • Dr Peter Hurford OBE, for organ playing, choral conducting, organ teaching, organ and choral composition, and organ-related administration
  • Mr Mark Venning, for organ building, organ-related scholarship, and organ-related administration.

Photography by RCO / Simon Jacobs

Meet the Musicians – Nicholas Mulroy

We catch up with Nicholas Mulroy ahead of his appearance as the Evangelist in our upcoming concerts next week.

When did you decide to become a singer? There probably wasn’t a specific timing to the decision. I studied languages at university, and when I spent a year in South America I missed the collective act of music making a lot; perhaps that was when the seed was initially sown.

What would have you become if you had not pursued music professionally? I worry that I’m unemployable otherwise, but I think I might have followed my parents into some sort of educational job. I enjoy the bits of teaching I do at the moment, and those times when you can see or feel something getting through to someone for the first time can be incredibly satisfying, which isn’t unlike something we aim for in performance – a moment of direct communication.

Tell us about one of the highlights of your career to date? That’s a difficult one! I tend not to look back very much (also, my memory isn’t what it was…), and often find that people’s ideas about any given concert can differ hugely anyway. But I work regularly with some extraordinary musicians (very much including the Dunedin Consort), and have been incredibly privileged to hear quite amazing performances of all kinds of things in all kinds of places. There are, of course, certain places where it’s always a thrill to sing – the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is very special, for example – but the main thing is the connection between the performers, the music and the audience; when you get that right it’s quite something.

Are stereotypes about tenors true? Do you all really want to sing as high as you can? I might not be the best person to answer that.. Though I do think that performing can cause stress in every musician. In Britain the more neurotic types don’t tend to be indulged too much, whereas on the continent I’ve found there to be more concessions given. Having said that, singing tenor can feel a bit like a high wire act (mostly without a safety net!), and there is of course always an element of macho competition in any extreme sport like that.

What’s special about working with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort? There’s always a strong sense of discovery in everything John does – no two performances are the same, and he creates a fantastic working atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable trying new things, and pushing themselves and each to new places with the music. John wears his huge amount of knowledge very lightly, but is endlessly compelling and never fails to shed new light on what we’re performing, more often than not with unusual and entertaining turns of phrase. It also helps that the musicians of the group are all amongst the very best around.

What keeps you awake at night? At the moment, my four month old son, Michael.

What is the hardest thing about performing the Evangelist role you will be singing with us? It’s a fantastic role to sing. In telling the story, a big part of the piece belongs to the Evangelist, and the way Bach sets the story, harmonically and dramatically, is – in both Passions – completely masterful. But it’s not easy! Firstly, it’s long (and the way we do it with Dunedin means that I sing in all the choruses and the tenor arias, too, so not much time off), so the question of pacing is key. It’s not completely clear how ‘involved’ the Evangelist should be: in the St John, for example, it always seems to me that the storyteller is really very close to the action – he could well be the ‘well-beloved disciple’ mentioned – so one has to consider how emotionally bound up with it the Evangelist should be, and to what degree one is outraged or bereaved by what happens. Bach gives lots of clues, though: harmonically you can feel the story ebb and flow, peak and trough as you go through, all of which helps you along the journey of these extraordinary pieces.

Nicholas Mulroy performs the Evangelist with the Dunedin Consort in their Passion tour this coming March.

Passion Tour Dates 2013:

Wed 13th March at 7.30pm Aberdeen Music Hall John Passion Book Now Thu 14th March at 8pm Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow John Passion Book Now Sun 17th March at 3pm The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh Matthew Passion  Book Now Mon 18th March at 7.30pm St John’s Kirk, Perth John Passion Book Now

John Passion – Recording of the Month March 2013 – Gramophone

Gramophone has awarded the Dunedin Consort’s gripping new performance of Bach’s ‘John Passion’ its highest accolade naming it ‘Recording of the Month’ in the March issue of the magazine!

This new recording marks the first time on record listeners can experience the Passion within its original liturgical context and features a star-studded cast including, Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Robert Davies, Joanne Lunn and Clare Wilkinson.

‘…the increasingly impressive Nicholas Mulroy’s alert, lightly coloured Evangelist strikes a balance in which declamation and lyricism are equally ardent and equally touching, while Matthew Brook is a supple and authoritative Christus.’ Gramophone

Fans of Dunedin Consort will know that director John Butt is a master at using historical context to shine new light upon well-known choral works. Recreated for this recording is a Good Friday Vesper liturgy of a passion performance as it would have occurred during Bach’s time at Leipzig.

‘…naturalness and emotional honesty are what emerge from this tight-knit and perfectly paced ensemble Passion, in which Bach’s complex succession of recitatives, arias, choruses and chorales has surely seldom sounded so convincingly of a piece.’ Gramophone

John Butt awarded OBE in 2013 New Year Honours List

$p.titleWe are delighted to announce that John Butt is to become an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music in Scotland.

John Butt has enjoyed so far a remarkable career in music. As a scholar, his work has been widely published and is acknowledged to be among the most original and insightful in recent years. Since 2003 his work with the Dunedin Consort has brought him and the company a host of accolades and awards, including both a Gramophone Award and Midem Awards for his recording of Handel’s Messiah in its original 1742 Dublin version. His work with the Dunedin Consort has seen the company expand from a purely vocal ensemble into Scotland’s pre-eminent baroque ensemble, one which is now in considerable demand.

John Butt says

“I am very pleased to receive this honour. It is a boost not only to me but also to the University of Glasgow and the Dunedin Consort. My work with these two exceptional organisations has allowed me to explore issues of research and performance practice in an unprecedented way. I could not have done any of the work that has led to this honour without their support but more importantly without the tireless patience of my wife Sally.”

Those who have worked with John closely will know how richly deserved this award is. His generosity, unbounded enthusiasm and contagious energy have inspired a generation of students, countless professional performers and numerous amateur musicians.    Congratulations John!

Dunedin Consort announces new internal structure

During the last two years, the activity of the Dunedin Consort has grown significantly. This has posed challenges to Dunedin’s management structure, particularly in view of the sharp increase in international profile, and the Board of Directors has been considering how to respond.

In reviewing the current structure we identified the need for strong leadership and clarity of decision making with a sharper focus on the management of the company and on its musical direction.  As a result of this review the Directors have decided that the current advisory roles of “Artistic Director” should end. These will instead be a single role of “Music Director” responsible for advising the Board on the broad artistic strategy. There will be a more senior role of Chief Executive, representing the Board, driving change and delivering all targets set by the Board.   We considered the skills and experience that each of these roles required and as a result, we have decided that John Butt should be the Music Director, and Alfonso Leal the Chief Executive.

Our repertoire continues to expand in the trajectory we have set with plans to perform and record more instrumental music, larger scale oratorios as well as earlier 17th century repertoire. This diversification of the repertoire will result in Dunedin having to build and draw upon a broader pool of artists. Whilst both Susan Hamilton and Philip Hobbs will no longer contribute to Dunedin as Artistic Directors, they of course remain an important part of the Dunedin family. Philip remains a key advisor on the recording strategy and Susan Hamilton will remain very much part of our very distinguished pool of artists.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has supported Dunedin. We would not have been able to achieve what we have without your help. We are fully committed to developing an excellent music company for Scotland and are positive that these plans, with your support, will help us achieve our goals.

Sir Muir Russell – Chairman of the Board of Directors

Cecilia Bernardini appointed as leader

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Cecilia Bernardini as our new leader.  Many of you will already have had the pleasure of watching and hearing her play; I’m sure you’ll agree that her passionate and beautiful playing has greatly added to the performances she has already been involved in.

Cecilia is a highly sought after musician throughout Europe and we are very pleased that she’ll be working closely with John Butt on our future projects.  She says,

“Making music with John Butt has been one of the main reasons for me to want be part of the Dunedin Consort; I’ve rarely encountered a musician who has both such a profound knowledge of music and and at the same time a really fresh spontaneity on the stage.  I have always felt incredibly motivated and inspired by the musicians around me and I look forward to a longer collaboration as leader of the orchestra of the Dunedin Consort.”

You can find out more about Cecilia on her website at

The Wode Collection – Recording Released

Dunedin Consort has joined forces with Fretwork and The University of Edinburgh to explore the musical psalms collected by Thomas Wode.

Wode was determined to record and preserve as much as he could of the music of his time, whether composed by Scots or by English and continental composers known in Scotland.  The resulting collection of songs provides a unique insight into musical life in Scotland in the second half of the sixteenth century.

‘The Wode Collection’ features works by well-known composers such as Thomas Tallis, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlandus Lassus, alongside lesser known composers and a host of anonymous works.  The nuances of the pieces are highlighted by the talented Dunedin Consort singers with their celebrated one-voice-to-a-part delivery.  Enter the fascinating world of sixteenth century Scotland in Studio Master 192 quality today.

Dunedin’s Messiah and Matthew Passion – Recommended by BBC Music Magazine

We would naturally recommend our own recordings of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Matthew Passion, but are always delighted when others agree with us. A special edition from BBC Music Magazine focusing on the lives and essential works of The Great Composers lists both our Messiah and Matthew Passion as the recommended recordings.

Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Matthew Passion represent two fundamental pillars of the Western European music tradition. Our recording of Handel’s Messiah won the Gramophone Award in 2007 for best baroque vocal recording and a MIDEM award. Bach’s Matthew Passion is not short of accolades receiving the best recording 2008 by High Fidelity magazine.

Dunedin’s success on both the platform and the recording market is testament to the passion and commitment of our artists.

Dunedin Consort – #11 – Gramophone’s International Choir Ranking 2010

It is with great pleasure and surprise that we announce that the Dunedin Consort has been ranked as #11 in Gramophone Magazine’s recent search for the top 20 choirs of the world. This follows on from a similar survey last year of the top orchestras in the world, which featured only one British orchestra.

This time British groups dominate the list, with the Monteverdi Choir taking the top spot. Placed ahead of such world-famous institutions as King’s College Choir, the Tallis Scholars and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Dunedin is clearly established as a key player on the world stage. Some might be surprised that we are counted as a choir at all, since the group consists of a constantly changing format of singers and instrumentalists, according to the requirements of the music concerned; the ‘choir’ element often comprises only four or five voices.

Might we even be able to claim that we are the highest ranking ‘non-choir’ on the list?

Linn Records – Label of the Year 2010 – Gramophone

We are delighted to announce that our recording partner Linn Records has won the Gramophone label of the year award.

On Friday 1st October, at the annual Gramophone Awards, Linn was named Label of the Year. For Linn, winning this prestigious award is the culmination of nearly three decades of work, and represents the dedication of a team striving to give the you the best music, with no compromises on quality or support of our artists.   To hear Gramophone’s Editor-in-Chief James Jolly describing Linn as “…the very model of a modern record company”  was, well, music to our ears.

Celebrate with 3 for 2 on all Linn Albums   To help celebrate this momentous occasion, we are offering 3 albums for the price of 2 across all Linn Records titles be it Studio Master download, SACD or even 180g Vinyl; with the offer running until 31st October 2010. Simply use the promotion code 3FOR2 when checking out.   Don’t know where to start? Well, our the award-winning albums below is a good place, or perhaps our specially selected range of highlights.

Previous Linn Award-Winners   Recent Gramophone Award ceremonies have seen many of Linn’s artists singled out for their outstanding recordings.   In 2010 the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Sir Charles Mackerras was a Finalist in the Orchestral Album of the Year category for their album Mozart Symphonies 29, 31 (Paris), 32, 35 (Haffner) & 36 (Linz) whilst Phantasm was a Finalist in the Early Music Album of the Year category for their album, John Ward: Consort music for five and six viols.   2009 saw another two recordings highlighted: Henry Purcell: Ten Sonatas in Four Parts by Retrospect Trio was a Finalist in the Baroque Instrumental Album of the Year category and the Dunedin Consort’s Acis and Galatea (Original Cannons Performing Version 1718) was a Finalist in the Baroque Vocal Album of the Year category.   James Gilchrist flew the flag for Linn at the 2008 Awards with a Finalist nod in the Solo Vocal Album of the Year category for this album with the Fitzwilliam Quartet and pianist Anna Tilbrook, On Wenlock Edge.   Linn’s biggest triumph, prior to being named ‘Label of the Year’ came in 2007 when the mighty Dunedin Consort scooped the Baroque Vocal Album of the Year Award for their recording of Handel’s Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742).  This superb two-disc album was later released on 180g vinyl in a beautiful 3 LP boxed set.   Many thanks to all who contributed to these successes, we will be working hard to bring you more award-winning recordings in the future.

John Butt joins prestigious Council

David Willetts, Minister for Universities & Science, has announced the appointment of John Butt and three other academics to the governing body, the Council, of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Council members are appointed by the Minister for Universities and Science and are responsible for the overall strategic direction of the AHRC including its key objectives and targets, and key decisions about the research direction of the AHRC.

Each year the AHRC provides approximately £112 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,350 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.